Eric and I got a little delayed in the shower when my hands got carried away while I washed him. When we got out of the shower Eric had to put on his clothes from the day before. I found a spare (new) toothbrush under the bathroom sink, unsure of whether or not vampires even bothered with that sort of thing.
“I don’t know if you need this or not,” I held the brush out to him.
He smiled and said, “Not all vampires do. Personally, I enjoy the mint flavor, so thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I left Eric in the bathroom while I went to my room to get dressed.
My stomach growled at me since I hadn’t fed it since I first got up but I didn’t want to stop to eat. We were already running behind and stopping to make supper would only make it worse. I was more concerned with finding Gran than I was with eating.
Unfortunately I was with Eric, who heard the rumbling of my stomach from the bathroom, and when we got downstairs he insisted that I eat something.
“Eric, I’m fine. Let’s just go.”
“You’re hungry and you’ve lost blood. Now isn’t the time to skip meals. What good are you to your grandmother if you’re unconscious?”
He was right, of course, so I relented and went to the kitchen to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was something I could eat quickly with minimal preparation. Eric stood off to the side, watching me like he wasn’t sure I would eat if he didn’t watch.
“You don’t have to babysit me, Eric,” I said as I poured myself a glass of milk to go along with my sandwich.
“I’m not. I don’t have anything else to do.”
“Email Bobby on whatever you were arguing with Pam about. You’re giving me a complex over here.” I took my plate to the table, fully intending to make quick work of the sandwich.
“I know you’re anxious to get to Red Ditch, but slow down. If something changes there Abe will be in contact,” he said.
“It’s just not easy for me to sit still when I could be doing something. I’m not good at sitting back and waiting,” I explained.
Gran had raised me to pick myself up, dust myself off and keep moving when tragedy struck. Feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t get me anywhere and it wouldn’t change anything. Action was what changed things.
Eric sat quiet as a church mouse at the table next to me while I ate. About halfway through my sandwich I broke the silence to ask, “Does it bother you when humans eat?”
“Depends on the food. Since I no longer have the appetite that I did as human there are some smells I don’t find appealing like I once did,” he answered.
“That makes sense. Do you miss eating?”
“Not really. It’s one of those human behaviors that takes a while to lose the desire for.”
“Like breathing? Do you need to breathe?”
“No, there’s no need to. I can without consequence, but if I never took another breath I’d be fine.”
I took another bite of my sandwich and tried to imagine myself as a vampire. No more sunshine, no more food, no more need to breathe, no more going to visit my friends uninvited… How would Gran feel about having a vampire granddaughter? Would she approve of the sort of life I’d have to live if I didn’t want to be truly dead, or would she think of me as an evil abomination?
“What are you thinking about?” Eric asked.
“What it’d be like to be a vampire,” I admitted. “I wouldn’t ever be able to see my friends and family again, would I?”
“Not without glamouring them to forget you,” he said.
“I want you to promise me something,” I turned to look at him.
“I want you to promise that you won’t glamour Gran or my brother,” I said.
“I can’t make that promise.”
“It may be to their benefit at some point that I’m able to do it,” he said. “It would be for their protection, but it might become a necessity.”
“But you can’t glamour me and you’re trusting me,” I pointed out. Glamouring Jason I could maybe forgive because he didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut sometimes, but Gran was another story.
I took a deep breath, knowing I needed to tell him that I’d told Gran he was a vampire. At the time I’d been hurt and I was sure things between him and I were over. I’d seen no way I could possibly forgive him for lying to me like he did, but he also needed to know that it was Gran that had urged me to forgive him.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” I said. I might as well bite the bullet and get it over with.
“Alright, so at the time that this happened you and I were obviously not together and I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that we would find a way to work things out,” I started. “And you should know that Gran was the one who really pushed me to look into my heart and see if there wasn’t a way I could forgive you for what you’d done. Gran is big on giving people second chances because we all mess up sometimes. She was right, like she always is, and I’m glad that I listened.”
“I’ll be sure to thank her when we find her,” Eric smiled.
“Good, but that’s not what I needed to tell you,” I took another deep breath and prayed that Eric wouldn’t be furious. “Eric, I told Gran that you’re a vampire.”
The silence in the room killed me. He had no reaction whatsoever, at least that he wanted me to see, but I knew there had to be something under the surface. Eric was good at keeping his face blank. A whole two minutes passed before I thought I was going to go insane.
“Please say something,” I said. “Even if you’re furious with me, just tell me.”
“I have to glamour her, Sookie,” he said, and I could see the anger in his eyes. “You should have told me this already. What if she’s told someone else?”
“She wouldn’t,” I said quickly. “Eric, Gran’s not a gossip. When I told her about what happened after we were attacked she actually let me have it for not going inside like you told me to. She didn’t judge the vampire part of you, but that’s Gran’s way. When she looks at a person she sees their character and not the clothes they wear, the color of their skin or anything like that. What she knows is that you could have drained me and instead you healed me. You took care of her granddaughter and saved her life when she was too foolish to save herself. She’s not a danger to you, Eric, I swear.”
I hoped he was paying attention to my feelings because I was willing to do just about anything for Gran. The funny thing was that I wasn’t really all that sorry for telling Gran the truth about him. I didn’t like hiding or lying to her.
“Please, just wait until you meet her and talk to her. I know I can’t stop you from glamouring her but I’m asking you to please hold off on it,” I said. I knew I was in no position to really expect him to give me my way on this, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.
“I can’t make you any promises,” he said with anger in his voice. “Who else have you told, Sookie?”
“No one. Gran is the only one who knows and I swear I will never tell another soul without your permission to do so,” I said.
Eric didn’t say anything more and I couldn’t tell if that was good or bad. I finished my sandwich a few minutes later and put my dishes in the sink so we could get going. We were only a few steps off the porch when there was another argument.
“We’ll take my car,” Eric said.
“It’s only got two seats, Eric. If we find Gran she’s going to need a place to sit. We should take my car.”
My car wasn’t as fast or fancy, but it had a backseat.
“Can you drive manual transmission cars?”
“Then you drive and I’ll fly,” he said with a hint of smugness.
I narrowed my eyes. Damn tricky vampire. He had a good point and he knew it.
“Fine, you win, but I should warn you I’m rusty at it,” I told him.
“You’ll do fine,” he bent to kiss my forehead, and then opened the car door.
I got into the passenger seat and in the blink of an eye Eric was behind the wheel. I tried not to pout because it was childish to do so. What I needed to do was take a breath and think rationally. Tara’s thoughts about my temper came to mind and I wondered why it was always so quick to show itself. That was something I needed to work on.
Eric programmed the address that Abe had sent into the GPS in his car, and once the route was calculated we were on our way. Usually when I left the driveway I turned right because it took me into town and to the nearest highway on ramp, but the GPS had us turning left. That meant we would be crossing through Hotshot to get to Red Ditch.
It also meant we would be passing through Perideaux Parish… where Uncle Bartlett was living. I knew this because of Jason. Gran knew it, too, but mostly because Jason still saw the old man from time to time. I had to just bite my tongue over the whole thing. At this point I wasn’t sure what Jason would believe if I told him what Uncle Bartlett had done to me as a child. I thought about the baby Dawn was supposedly carrying. If Jason had a daughter, how would he feel about some dirty old man touching her in a way he shouldn’t?
It got me thinking about how alone I’d felt with such a huge secret. For so long he had convinced me that no one would believe me, that he could beat any accusations I made. He told me that he could just tell everyone that I was suffering from PTSD after losing both of my parents and they would believe him over me. Everyone would just think I was a liar, desperate for attention and evil to my core for making such wild, untrue accusations.
But worst of all? Worst of all he’d told me that I’d go to Hell and I’d never see my parents again if I told on him. At that point, as a child, the concept of going to Hell was terrifying to me. If Heaven was the only place I could see Mama and Daddy again I had determined that I was going to be a good girl so I’d get there when the Lord called me Home.
“What’s wrong?” Eric asked, breaking into my thoughts.
I couldn’t very well lie and tell him I was fine. No doubt he felt the anger churning inside me, ribboned with sadness and a little bitterness for the innocence that had been stolen from me.
“We’re going to pass Uncle Bartlett’s house on the way to Red Ditch,” I explained. “I was just thinking about all the awful things he used to say to me to keep me quiet when I was a child.”
“Why isn’t he in prison?” Eric asked. “As a father, I would have killed a man who touched my daughter the way you were.”
“Oh I’m sure Gran thought about putting that shotgun of hers to use, but I don’t think it would have done any good,” I sighed. “If she had killed Bartlett she would have ended up in prison and I could have ended up his ward.”
Eric’s grip on the steering wheel got tighter. “It is unacceptable that you never got justice for what he did to you.”
“Justice or vengeance?” I asked since there was a murderous look on Eric’s face.
“Sometimes those two things are one in the same,” he said. “I don’t suppose your Christian values allow for you to consider the merits of an eye for an eye.”
“I’ve thought about it,” I admitted. “In moments when I get very angry I even fantasize about it. There are times when I think it’s only fair that he endure the same terror, shame, discomfort and anxiety that I did as a child, but then I remember that he would have to be capable of feeling anything in order for it to matter.”
“I could kill him for you,” Eric said easily. My head jerked in his direction. I wasn’t particularly shocked by his offer for some reason, but I wasn’t eager to accept it either.
“No, Eric. That isn’t necessary. He’s an old man now that can’t even tie his own shoes, according to Jason. I’d just as soon leave well enough alone. He doesn’t bother me and I’d rather not fool with him.”
“He stole a part of your life from you at a time when you shouldn’t have had to worry about being safe in your own home. He hurt you repeatedly, taking from you over and over again to please himself.”
“Doesn’t sound much different from D/s when you put it that way.”
Eric looked over at me and asked, “Is that how it makes you feel during scenes, Sookie? Do you feel like you’re helpless, completely being disregarded or uncared for?”
“No, Eric that’s not what I meant. You’ve been a good Sir to me,” I assured him. “I meant what I said in a general way, and from the perspective of a person who doesn’t have a good understanding of the difference between being a sub and being a victim.”
He seemed to relax some, and that meant his foot pushed down harder on the accelerator. Eric definitely had a lead foot. We were going close to ninety miles per hour on a road that was posted at fifty.
“Will you please slow down a little?” I asked him.
Eric backed off the gas just a bit but we were still going close to eighty after that. I rolled my eyes and looked out the window.
“I thought you were in a hurry to get to Red Ditch?” he reminded me.
“I am but I’d like to get there in one piece if you don’t mind,” I huffed.
“Sookie the only car wrecks I’ve been in are because I intentionally caused them,” he informed me. “I have excellent reflexes, timing and if there was a problem I’m fast enough that I could have us both out of the car before there was impact.”
“Why would you intentionally cause a car accident?”
“To feed,” he said with a shrug.
I was dumbfounded by that. He ruined perfectly good cars just for a meal? Jesus, that seemed heartless and really dangerous. I’m sure my disgust at his confession registered on my face the same as it did in my blood.
“It’s never the ideal option, but it’s worked,” he said casually.
I kept quiet. Gran always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say I shouldn’t say anything at all. I didn’t always remember that, but I couldn’t think of anything at all nice to say so I kept my mouth shut.
“What purpose does that old man serve to society, Sookie?” Eric asked.
“That’s not the point, Eric. It isn’t up to me to play God and decide who lives or dies. Uncle Bartlett will have to answer to God for what he’s done,” I explained.
“And if there is no God? What if this is it, Sookie? What if there is nothing beyond this life? No higher power waiting to hand out justice to those who escaped it in their mortal life?”
“Even if that’s true and I believe in a God that doesn’t exist it doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong to kill someone.”
“So if your life is on the line you’re going to save someone else before you save yourself?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Maybe.”
Eric wasn’t at all pleased with my answer.
“Non sibi,” I whispered.
Eric heard me, of course, and said, “That’s bullshit, Sookie.”
“Being selfless is bullshit?” my eyes widened. “It seems to me we could use a few more selfless people in this world. Besides, if I was so selfless I wouldn’t struggle with so many things.”
We were quiet after that for the rest of the drive to Red Ditch. When we got close to the address that Abe had given Eric I paid closer attention to the houses, trying to remember if we knew anyone here, but no one was coming to mind. I had no clue what Gran would be doing this far east. The car came to a stop outside of a small ranch style house with a gravel driveway and a little carport off to the side. None too surprisingly, Gran’s car wasn’t parked anywhere that I could see, but there was a standard issue pickup truck in the carport. The house looked like any other you’d see in any other American town. There was nothing fancy about the structure. The grass out front was patchy and dying off in places in preparation for winter.
There were Halloween decorations on the door and in the windows. What appeared to be a freshly carved jack-o-lantern was sitting on the front steps and there were bushes under the big picture window. Given the hour there were no kids out playing in the yards, but lights glowed in the windows. The house we were sitting in front of was no different.
“Nothing is familiar about this place,” I told Eric.
There was a knock on his window that made me jump out of my skin until I realized it was Abe. Eric got out of the car and I followed suit.
“Her trail ends here,” Abe pointed to the house. “I’ve been watching it since I got here. I’ve only seen one human male enter the house, and that was approximately ten minutes after I sent you that message. He’s only come out once to put that pumpkin on the steps.”
“That’s awful quick to carve a pumpkin,” I said, and the vampires nodded their agreement.
“I’ve been listening for conversation inside but so far I’ve only heard a woman. I haven’t been able to get a visual so I can’t say if it’s your grandmother,” Abe said to me.
“That’s okay. This is helpful enough. If nothing else maybe someone at least remembers seeing her coming or going from the house if she’s not inside.”
I didn’t know what the next step was in Eric’s mind, but I was fixing to go knock on the door to talk to the man inside.
“I’m going to the door,” I said.
“I’ll come with you,” Eric offered.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. If Gran is in the house she won’t know you and I don’t want a scene. Besides you need an invitation and I don’t. If I’m in trouble you’ll know it.”
It was Eric’s turn to narrow his eyes in disagreement.
“Eric, who is a man more likely to talk to, a vulnerable looking woman, or an intimidating giant?” I asked him.
“A giant that can glamour him,” Eric argued.
“Just let me try it my way first,” I said. I wasn’t sure what the big deal was. If Gran was inside the house and she heard me she’d make a big racket over it. Did he really think whoever was in the house was going to yank me inside and keep me there?
“Trust me, Eric. Let me go check the house out and if something seems off then I’ll come back for you,” I promised.
“Fine,” he relented. “I’ll be right here. If so much as the people in that house look at you strangely, I want you to come right back to me.”
“I will,” I said and pushed up to kiss his cheek, but Eric wasn’t one to do things halfway so I got one of those toe curlers right on the mouth, and he didn’t let me go until I was breathless.
When I could finally get a little space between us my eyes drifted over to Abe, whose fangs had dropped at some point during that kiss. As if to embarrass me further Eric leaned down and whispered, “He can smell how turned on you are now, Lover.”
I gasped and my reflex at hearing that was to slap him, so that’s exactly what happened. Eric growled and his fangs came down as well.
“You’ll pay for that later,” he said in that husky, Dom voice that made my knees shaky.
I was a sick, sick puppy.
As I stumbled toward the front of the house all I could think about was what sort of payment plan Eric might have in mind. My body was climbing the steps of a strange house but my mind had me bending over the spanking bench in Eric’s playroom. Seriously, sick puppy.
I took a deep breath before raising my hand and knocking on the front door. I thought about making up some sort of story about car trouble but there were plenty of other houses on the block I could have chosen. It took a few seconds but the door opened to reveal a dark haired man standing there.
She looks like Hadley.
“You know Hadley?” I asked and the man jumped back like I’d touched him with a red hot poker.
“How did you-” he started to ask but didn’t get to finish because Eric was at my side immediately. So much for letting me try things my way.
“You’re going to invite me inside and you’re going to answer all of this lovely woman’s questions,” Eric said as he glamoured the man.
“Yeah, sure. Would y’all like to come in?” the man asked in a docile, robotic voice.
“We would be delighted,” Eric said, and gestured for me to go in ahead of him.
“Thank you,” I said through a clenched jaw.
How did she find me? I thought we would be safe here. Gran said she wouldn’t tell.
Hadley’s voice! It had been years but I knew her voice.
“Hadley!” I called out. “Hadley, where is Gran?” I went looking for her instead of dealing with the glamoured man at the door.
Eric followed behind me as I went from room to room in search of my long lost cousin. I followed her voice all the way to a closet in the back bedroom. But it wasn’t just any bedroom, it was a room set up for a baby. Did Hadley have a baby?
“Hadley, please come out of there,” I said without opening the closet door.
Sookie just go away, please. Don’t make me involve you in this mess, too.
“Hadley, what mess? Where is Gran? Just please, come out of there and talk to me. We can figure all of this out,” I said.
“Sookie, who are you talking to?” Eric asked from behind me.
“Hadley. She’s in the closet.”
Please, Sookie, just go now. Please. Please. Please.
“Hadley open the door, okay? I promise you everything will be okay.”
The closet door slowly started to open and Eric stepped in front of me, prepared to attack whoever came out. For the first time in years I laid eyes on my cousin. She was too thin, her hair was like straw and she looked scared to death. I pushed past Eric and wrapped her in a hug.
Sookie, it’s really you. Thank you, Jesus. Please keep them safe. Please don’t let the Rogues find them. They’re all I have. I swear I’ll do right from now on, just please keep them safe.
“Hadley, honey, we’re gonna be fine,” I assured her, stroking coarse hair that used to be as silky as mine.
Hadley was sobbing on my shoulder when Eric leaned down to whisper, “I think you’ve gotten your gift. You can hear her thoughts.”
I froze for a second and then I looked at Hadley. Her mouth wasn’t moving but I could still hear her voice.
Dear God don’t let them get my baby. Dear God don’t let them get my baby.
Over and over she prayed and it was then that I looked down to see that Hadley was pregnant. She was the one that had kidnapped Gran.